(I interrupt the typically brief introduction to the newest edition of The Forum for a soapbox moment...)
The NBA, like most sports, has certain constructs held in such reverence it's as if Moses himself came down from Mt. Sinai with a second set of tablets.
Among three of the biggest:
-Thou shalt make it abundantly clear which player has "ownership" of the team.
-Thou shalt not take the court without designating clear-cut first, second, and third options offensively.
-Thou shalt designate a single star player responsible for taking all last-second shots, because that's what stars do.
While there were some technical explanations for the periodic struggles during their first season together (redundancy in playing styles and skill sets being a biggie), and sheer talent nearly won them a title anyway, a preoccupation with satisfying the commandments above were a major drag on the developing partnership between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami. It didn't need to be that way.
This season, the Lakers will feature four highly skilled offensive players in their starting lineup, and questions of chemistry are foremost in the minds of many. How is all of this going to work?
Not nearly as well as it could, if they get too wrapped up in the stuff above. Only the first -- team "ownership" -- comes with an obvious answer. After 16 seasons, five championships, and a legacy as one of the NBA's dominant players and personalities, it's Kobe Bryant's team. He's too deeply woven into the fabric and identity of the franchise for it to be anything else.
With the other two -- establishing an offensive pecking order and deciding one person (let's be honest, we're talking about Kobe) takes the last shot because that's the way it's supposed to be -- the Lakers have an opportunity to do something most NBA teams can't or won't: To truly maximize the potential of their personnel. On any given night, the Lakers could be led in points by Kobe or Howard, or Steve Nash or Pau Gasol, depending on how a defense behaves. On any given last possession, the Lakers could make themselves incredibly difficult to defend if they don't shrink the playbook down to cocktail napkin size. Any other approach does the opposition a favor.
None of it amounts to a value judgment of the players involved, but a reflection of how much top end skill and smarts are on the roster, and how effective they could be if nobody really cares who gets the credit. Most of the concern around shots and touches is centered on Kobe and Howard, but I don't share it. Call me naive, but particularly with Nash on board spreading the wealth, should things go south ego won't be the reason. The skill sets of L.A.'s Big Four complement each other beautifully, and each is positioned well whether because of disposition (Nash, Gasol) or career arc (Kobe, Howard) to contribute to a winning hoops culture.
(Climbing down from soapbox...)
So all that said, what happens when there are 17 seconds left on the clock, and the Lakers are down by one? That's the question I kick around with Ramona Shelburne on this edition of The Forum.